Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Expat

" . . .The majority were men who, like himself, thrown there by some accident, had remained as officers of country ships. They had now a horror of the home service, with its harder conditions, severer view of duty, and the hazard of stormy oceans. They were attuned to the eternal peace of Eastern sky and sea. They loved short passages, good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the distinction of being white. They shuddered at the thought of hard work, and led precariously easy lives, always on the verge of dismissal, always on the verge of engagement . . . They talked everlastingly of turns of luck: how So-and-so got charge of a boat on the coast of China — a soft thing; how this one had an easy billet in Japan somewhere, and that one was doing well in the Siamese navy; and in all they said — in their actions, in their looks, in their persons — could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the determination to lounge safely through existence. To Jim that gossiping crowd, viewed as seamen, seemed at first more unsubstantial than so many shadows. But at length he found a fascination in the sight of those men, in their appearance of doing so well on such a small allowance of danger and toil. In time, beside the original disdain there grew up slowly another sentiment . . . " - Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
I had read Heart Of Darkness whilst still in university and found it to be terribly over-hyped and somewhat unreadable, but when I read Lord Jim in 2004 whilst in Nanjing I felt immediately that here was a book written by someone who, whilst he was a creature of his time, understood what it was both to be a young man and to be an expat. Lord Jim is still one of my favourite books, even if I have not yet warmed to Conrad's other works.


justrecently said...

"The Rains Came" by Louis Bromfield isn't a great book, but the observations he made on expats in India, somewhere during the first half of the past century, apparently, seem to remind me of something. No generalizations meant, though.


Moving among them, watching them, it always astounded Ransome [den Protagonisten] that this tight little world existed, day after day, in utter ignorance of the splendorous world which engulfed it, unaware of its beauties, its magnificence, its tragedy, its squalor. Yet, like sheep, they were aware of the terror. It was always with them, the fear of being swallowed up and forgotten; and so to give themselves courage they became arrogant and comic. Among themselves they referred to this process as “keeping a stiff upper lip.” Like sheep in their fright they huddled together, all save Miss MacDaid and the Smileys and Aunt Phoebe and those two strange spinsters, Miss Dirks and Miss Hodge, who ran the Maharani’s High School for Girls and were never seen by anyone. And so all these were outcasts among the sheep, mavericks who wandered alone. The spectacle of the tea party, Ransome knew in his heart, was more pitiful than annoying. The bleating, the arrogance, the odd affected accents were like the whistling in the dark of a small and frightened boy. Yet there were compensations. Here in Ranchipur all these people experienced a certain prestige and importance; when they returned home they would be lost in a vast swamp of suburban mediocrity.

Gilman Grundy said...

"Here in Ranchipur all these people experienced a certain prestige and importance; when they returned home they would be lost in a vast swamp of suburban mediocrity."

True enough that. E.M. Forster wrote something along the same line In A Passage To India.